This is one of the portions in the Torah that highlights the meaning of priesthood in Judaism. Priesthood has made many uncomfortable throughout history, since its inception as one of the pillars of the Jewish tradition. This derives from the Torah’s designation of the three groups that comprise the Jewish people, which are the Priests, the Levites and Israel, all as complementing aspects of the same consciousness that characterizes the Jewish identity.
We read in this portion the orientation of the Levites clans in the camp around the Tabernacle, and the duties in their service required to maintain God’s presence among the people congregated before Him during their years in the desert of Sinai.
Priests, Levites and Israel have roles and obligations to keep in a permanent basis the bond between the Creator and His people. Hence we read about the priests who perform the most important function as the intermediaries between every single Jew and their God.
The question arises immediately. Why do we need intermediaries to relate individually with our God? This takes us to the annual pilgrimage of Jews in northern Israel, either secular or observant, to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, where dozens of thousands in Lag BaOmer pay him honor and respect in order to gain his favor as a trustworthy middleman to intervene for us before God.
For many, Bar Yochai’s “clout” is effective to perform miracles and granting the requests they believe God would never grant because of their lack of merits. In order words, Bar Yochai’s merits are the reason for God to grant their requests.
This leads to ask ourselves if our transgressions make us unworthy to be heard by the God who calls us His children. The Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible tell us that God always hears and responds in all kinds of circumstances, usually with the same answer mentioned countless times in our Jewish scriptures. This answer is His petition to return to His ways and commandments, as the means to make goodness prevail in all aspects and expressions of life.
The priest’s role is to guide our understanding towards this answer, and return to the essence of what we truly are; the goodness from which God created us and wants us to live as the source and purpose of our real freedom. In this context we realize that the priesthood represents the highest level of consciousness, the best knowledge we can have that keeps us close to the goodness from which we came. This is the guidance of the ethical and moral principles that define the traits and qualities of what gives meaning to life in this world.
Thus we have to return to our best judgment of what is right in situations where we made the wrong choices, usually for our own benefit or satisfaction in detriment of others. We must return to the high priest in us as the permanent awareness of what keeps us connected with our God. The Torah mentions the priest as the one who knows better than us, not because of his wisdom but his closeness to the Source of all wisdom.
Thus we understand the priestly blessings that God commanded the priest in this portion of the Torah to bestow upon the children of Israel. We can paraphrase them in the context of goodness, as they are meant to be said.
“May God bless you [be your source of goodness] and [this goodness] protect you [in what you are, have and do]” (Numbers 6:24)
“May God’s countenance [the goodness with which He relates to His creation, that is reflected on it] shine on you [so you can reflect His goodness in what you say and do], and grace you [so goodness makes you graceful to others, so they also embrace goodness]” (6:25)
“May God elevate [enhance and highlight] His countenance [goodness] on you, and give you [the] peace [derived from the elevated goodness that brings wholeness and completion]”